Grieving the Academy

Burn up your past! Like these striking (they are all very handsome but they are also on strike) firemen I see every day who keep burning fires and having barbecues in the rain. Va savoir…

Yesterday I had a moment where I rued the loss of an illustrious career in academia. It still gets to me. But then this morning, following Natalie Goldberg’s instructions, I decided to read some old notebooks. Here’s a little thing I wrote in 2013, trying to reconcile myself with the world I had lost. It’s a little fiction, a little self-lambasting…

I like to tell the story about how I microwaved raclette.

“Do you know what it is? Oh, really? Have you not been to Switzerland? Oh, I’m sorry that came out rather snotty. So what did you do after college? You worked? Well, let me get back to the cheese. I did tell you that raclette is a kind of cheese, right? Well, the funny thing is, in French it’s just a verb really. You know, like to clear your throat. Oh, you studied Spanish? Why? I never saw the point, it’s such a simple language. So, I was in Switzerland, let’s see, it was the year I went to university there, not just a vacation, although I have to say that if the flight weren’t so long I would ski there every Christmas. So much nicer. And rather reasonable really. Well, if you scrape something the verb in French is racler. What a nice onomatopoeia, huh, for scraping out your throat. I was listening to NPR the other day and there was this whole segment about how we’re losing onomatopoeias because our phones make all of the sounds now. You know, like tweeting isn’t a sound any more. So this cheese is a scraping cheese, but hmm, I never really thought about the -ette ending. It’s not like they mean scrapable or already been scraped. I’m sure that even in English you can play it in Scrabble. It’s not a proper name like some of those other cheeses named after places. You know. Like Gruyère or Emmenthaler or some of those AOC’s. AOC? Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, darling, like Parma ham and all those wines. So let’s see, yes, I went to see that Swiss guy I met in Big Sur, what was his name? That tall guy. Oh, I didn’t know you yet. You wouldn’t know him. Well it was a full moon that night so we decided to go luging down some huge mountain in the dark. But wait, I forgot to tell you the first part of the raclette story. That was a few days earlier at a dinner party in Geneva. That guy was there, the one who gave me that creepy book. I mean Schnitzler is fine and all but don’t you think it’s an icky gift when you’re a married man? Fräulein Elsa. You haven’t read it? Didn’t you have to take Comp Lit? You got an English endorsement with no European Lit? What are you going to teach? Oh goodness, we’ve got four minutes left and I still haven’t explained about the cornichons. You know, the little pickles, mmm, and small boiled potatoes. Some people like ham too but I think it all just gets too salty. I could make it for you if we could find the cheese here. Oh, you think Costco? They have European cheeses? Well, I don’t have a card. Haven’t quite gotten used to the excess consumption now that I’m living here. I wonder if it was the raclette microwave incident at my last job that made them not like me. There’s got to be a better way to do it if you don’t have the raclette machine. I couldn’t bring one back from Switzerland because of the outlet problems. Oh, bye. See you tomorrow? At the faculty meeting?”

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